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Football Obituaries by Ivan Ponting

Release date: 20th March, 2008
Publisher: Know The Score Books

List Price: £16.99
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It might seem a tad morbid, assembling a book which deals solely with dead footballers, but ever since the late Hugh Massingbird famously took over as obituaries editor of The Daily Telegraph, 'obits' have become a celebration of various lives lived to the full. Ivan Ponting's excellent collection is, therefore, akin to celebrating footballer's lives with a minute's clapping rather than with a minute's silence. And what great lives there are to recall and how well Ponting tells their tale.

As readers might expect, there is a long list of high-profile, multi-capped stars included here, but frequently, one turns the page to be confronted with photographs of players one saw in action not that long ago and whose deaths were not widely reported; this particular list is depressingly long.

Ponting's obituaries succeed in resurrecting vivid memories: Graham Paddon, for example, is described as a "feelgood footballer [who] brought a cocktail of flair, zest and determination to the game." It's incredible to read that the former Norwich and West Ham midfielder died aged just 57. Derek Dougan is remembered as "an inveterate, rather wild rover who thrilled managers and fans alike with his spicily effective individualism", while Ian Porterfield's famous left foot strike that won the FA Cup for Sunderland in 1973 is recalled as a goal which "plunged a nation's football-lovers into transports of rapture not witness since England had won the World Cup." Presumably Leeds fans didn't see it this way.

Of course, it's impossible to ignore the greats such as Alan Ball "the flame-haired buzz-bomb", or Ferenc Puskas about whom Ponting asks quizzically 'what set him apart?' "Certainly not prowess with head or right foot, both of which were negligible. But his left foot was an instrument of wondrous precision, by turns brutally powerfulÖand silkily smooth."

Ponting sums up Emlyn Hughes' verve in a single sentence: "The ebullient, endlessly ambitious Hughes exuded an insatiable will to win that was almost frightening in its intensity, personifying the sporting gospel as preached by his mentor Bill Shankly." Thankfully, Ponting has seen enough players in his career to ensure that John Charles is placed "without a hint of equivocation amongst the greatest players the world has ever seen."

The great Jeff Astle topped the First Division's scoring charts in 1969/70 which earned him the first of his five full England caps; and while he never became an England regular (although one fancies that had he played for a London club that might have been different), he is forever remembered as the 'King of the Hawthorns'.

There are many 'Kings' featured throughout this wonderful collection: Sir Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Bob Paisley (still English football's most successful manager), Ted Drake, Jackie Blanchflower, each man contributing more to our national game than any one of them may have imagined when starting their respective careers. Ponting has done a quite superb job in helping us re-live their achievements which makes this an outstanding book to dip into whenever one becomes frustrated at the shenanigans of the modern game.




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